It can be so frustrating dealing with teens who talk back. But there are some good ways to keep your sanity. We’ve heard about the terrible 2’s but tantrums aren’t just for young children. The terrible teens can rear their ugly head and it’s good to have a playbook of ideas to help deal with these situations.
The terrible teens are a normal phase of life and are an outward expression of a budding adult working to gain independence and individualism.
It seems as if our current society both reflects and encourages these behaviors, as media often shows sassy teenage stars who get a laugh from their rude remarks aimed at adults, who are often portrayed as unreasonable and/or less intelligent than the teenagers.
Parents who are concerned about quashing their teen’s independence, worried about engaging in a power struggle that they might not be able to win, or just feeling helpless in the face of the teen’s strongly expressed emotions, may simply give up when their child refuses to do what is asked of him.
It’s important for parents to understand that teenagers do not have the same control of their impulses that adults do, since the part of the brain that helps one think ahead and adjust behavior based on potential consequences (the prefrontal cortex), is still developing. However, even though your teenager’s brain development is still in progress, she still needs to learn how to control impulsive and rude behavior, not only to make life more pleasant for those surrounding her at the time, but also because the experiences that one has during adolescence helps to wire the brain to effectively deal with emotions and impulses throughout life.
Parents need to provide support and guidance that will enable such effective responses to eventually become hard-wired in the brain. Part of providing such support and guidance is setting clear boundaries about what kind of behavior will be tolerated, and what consequences exist for engaging in behavior that is not allowed.
Both teenagers and parents need to know that it is developmentally appropriate and healthy to question what is being asked of them, as long as they are not doing it in a rude or offensive manner. We do want to teach our teenager that it’s important to stand up for what they believe in, and that some ways of getting what they want are more effective than others, but that sometimes standing up for oneself may include an unpleasant consequence. Here are some ways to deal with teenagers that talk back and show disrespect:
- Make sure that the rules of the house are very clear and specific. You may need to say to your child (at a time when you are both calm), “We have been fighting a lot lately, so we need to sit down and clarify what my/our expectations for your behavior are, and what the consequences will be for breaking the rules.”
- When your child talks back to you or refuses to do something you have asked, take a few seconds to remind yourself to stay calm, and think about what you are about to say. Do not threaten your child or yell at her, as these behaviors can cause the interaction to escalate. Simply state the behavior and remind your child of the consequences. If your child seems to be out of control (or you feel that you are getting out of control), let her know that you will continue the conversation later, and walk away.
- Be confident, firm, and consistent. Do not negotiate with your child, back down, or let her draw your into an argument about the consequence that you are enforcing. Consequences are consequences and shouldn’t be up for discussion or argument. If your child feels like she can argue or negotiate a consequence, she’ll be more likely to continue an undesired behavior and moreover, more likely to argue even more the next time around. Do not lecture or give long-winded speeches, as your teen will simply tune out, which will in turn make you more likely to get worked up.
- Be willing to have conversations (rather than arguments) about adjusting the rules and consequences every few months as your child gets older and can take on more responsibility. However, make it clear that your teen must be able to present her position to you without being rude – this is an excellent life skill to instill. In addition, all parties involved need to understand that just because your teen may present a good argument in a polite manner, it doesn’t mean that you’re required to change your position. Be willing to listen with an open mind and be up for a discussion, but in the end, you are the parent with the life experience to make good decisions, as well as the person responsible for your child’s safety and well-being.
- Backtalk sometimes comes from teenagers trying to learn how to assert their independence and test limits, so help them make good choices within the boundaries that you set. As much as possible, let them be responsible for their own behavior, even if it means that they have to deal with the negative consequences (this can often be the best learning experience from them). In addition, give them choices whenever you can, but make it clear when no choice exists and you are not willing to negotiate, especially when it comes to matters of your child’s safety.
- When your child uses rude words to label you or someone else, ask her to be specific. Say, “When you call me…, it is not only rude and will not be tolerated, but it also does not help me understand what you want. Tell me what you are upset about or what you would like to happen.” This can be very helpful when dealing with teens who talk back.